Kelly begins fourth season on steady ground

24 Comments

After three seasons as the head coach of Notre Dame, Brian Kelly feels confident. And that’s not just the confidence that comes from your average, everybody-is-still-undefeated media day banter, but rather the belief of a head coach that’s followed a blue print and seen the corresponding results.

Comfortably in the rearview mirror is an undefeated regular season. Also behind him are the speed bumps that followed — a trouncing in the BCS Championship game, the uncertainty that came with an NFL job interview, the Manti Te’o catfish debacle, and the unexpected loss of starting quarterback Everett Golson.

“It was in the rearview mirror the next day,” Kelly said, when addressing setbacks during his opening press conference for the ’13 season. “We don’t even think about it, don’t even talk about it. It’s history.”

In season’s past, those landmines would have been enough to derail a team before they ran out of the tunnel. But on Friday afternoon, Kelly’s confidence showed the changes that he’s instilled in the Notre Dame football program, rebuilt brick by brick.

“We’ve developed an environment, people call it culture, workplace mentality, there’s a lot of ways to spin it,” Kelly said. “Our kids believe in what we do and how we do it. There’s a way of doing things here. So that never goes away. And that has permeated this football program, and the way we do things on a day to day basis.”

That’s not to say that Kelly believes that his program has completely arrived. But the goal of every season moving forward was stated plainly for all eyes to see, with game No. 13 on the team’s schedule set for January 7, 2014: The BCS Championship Game.

Training camp now offers the head coach and his assistants a chance to evaluate the offseason work of his players, orchestrated by strength coach Paul Longo. That means getting a look at a stacked running back depth chart and a battle at safety that could be three or four deep.

With a announced contract extension “imminent,” and a coaching staff that returns in tact, the work to improve may never be done. But for the first time in a long while, the bedrock of a winning program is apparent in South Bend.

“We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be back in the national spotlight,” Kelly said. “We have no intention of giving that up.”